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Coronavirus vs. Corporate Culture

COVID-19 Weekly Culture Pulse Survey: March 30-April 3, 2020

We’re all learning more every day about the nature of COVID-19. From a business perspective, it appears to affect the work experience as differently as it does the human body. In other words, some workers are suffering much more acutely than others from the disruption the virus causes. And there’s a dramatic difference in the experience between remote workers and front-line hourly employees.

Our most recent weekly pulse survey of over 1,340 employees throughout the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. takes a close look at two broad groups: remote workers and front-line employees. We’ll highlight the key takeaways from each group separately, but first, a look at how workplace culture has changed over the past 3 weeks:


Remote Workers


Strikingly, almost 65% of people working remotely (most often from home) report their company culture has not changed in any meaningful way. But among those who have experienced change, we see a pair of trends: First, 67% say that after the initial shock, their culture feels more social and collaborative because they compensate for physical distance by reaching out to each other virtually. One response representing a widespread sentiment,

“My team takes more time to collaborate with each other. We can’t do it spur of the moment, so we have to plan it. While that hurts spontaneity, it also has focused our meetings. People show up ready and have a good discussion.”


Second, to at least some extent, employees are replacing the connection they once felt to their larger culture by bonding as teams. Notable quotes:

“I more strongly identify with my team, and what we do now, than what my organization does.”

And “It doesn’t feel like [company name redacted] culture anymore. How could it? I’m not there. But my team has created a culture and honestly, its better.”


Front-line Employees


“STRESS” is one of the most common words we hear from people who continue to share the same workplace. And they use it four times as often as remote workers.

The other significant emotional cost is a general sense of loneliness due to less team interaction, new policies like eating lunch six feet apart, and numerous peers leaving the building to work from home.

The phrase “left behind” appears frequently. In the words of one respondent,

“Me and a few others that are forced to work in the office because we are ‘essential’ to business operations have been left behind. No one outside of our immediate team checks in on us.”

A perceived lack of safety, along with feelings of inequity and resentment, is most pronounced among hourly front-line employees. Many believe their organizations prioritize revenue and customers above them. For example,

“I’m grateful for the job. But my manager doesn’t care about our safety. I practically volunteered because I needed the money, but I asked if we could buy some masks. He said ‘You don’t need a mask. Oh, but be sure to Lysol everything customers touch. We don’t want customers getting sick.’”


Bottom Line and the Upside


Cultures that create first- and second-class employees, even unintentionally, are inherently problematic and weaker for it. But just because employees have different day-to-day realities doesn’t mean they have to experience the culture differently.

Even in times of dramatic change, all employees can benefit from microexperiences such as communication sprees that challenge everyone to connect with new people; virtual meetings that bring entire teams and departments together—both remote and front-line; and timely recognition for every size contribution.

For more recommendations, check out the O.C. Tanner 2020 Culture Report. The good news for now is that just like communities with more vulnerable citizens, companies with front-line employees still have a window of opportunity to at least minimize harm in the coming weeks.


Stay tuned to our COVID-19 weekly culture pulse surveys for insights that will help your organization to weather the storm.

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